"Only now can I appreciate, when I reflect on the depth of my relationship with my talmid, the special connection of a rebbi to a talmid"
he tragedy in Meron on Lag B’omer struck at the heart of every Jew all over the world, but what was so blatant was the fact that each of the 45 niftarim came from a different city, yeshivah, community, or group within Klal Yisrael. The Hashgachah Pratis is clear; it is obvious that Hashem handpicked each of these 45 korbanos.
My beloved talmid Reb Moshe Bergman ztz"l was chosen to be the korban of English Jewry.
With his love of Torah and sterling middos, Moshe was from the elite of our kollelim — Machon Hora’ah L’Rabbanim and the Second Seder Kollel.
Moshe, who was 22 and had been married for a year and a half, was the first new avreich to join the kollel during corona. With his broad smile and enthusiasm he infused life into a difficult situation.
Moshe always had an unparalleled love for Torah, but when he came to the kollel to learn halachah, this love soared to unprecedented heights. This was Toras chaim, because Moshe did not just learn Torah — he lived Torah.
We were learning hilchos Shabbos, and we discussed a difficulty in a particular hanhagah that is prevalent in Belz. That very night, Moshe was on the phone with the Belzer dayan to clarify it.
But that wasn't enough for Moshe, who was never satisfied until every side had been examined and scrutinized, until he had discussed it and rediscussed it with his rebbeim and friends. His extraordinary bikush ha’emes meant that he had to see it for himself, to elucidate all the details until the end, and so he went on Shabbos to daven in Belz. If the diyuk in the Shaar Tzion implied that dancing following Kiddush Levanah had to be exuberant, then after his last Kiddush Levanah, that was the way he danced, "like the Chofetz Chaim danced."
The same was true when we learned hilchos brachos. His wife told me that when the kollel learned about coffee, he asked her to keep out the kettle every night that week, for a coffee that he wanted to make, but didn’t... because he didn’t like coffee — but it was in his head and his heart. Schnitzel was also much more than just dinner; it was a sugya that came to life with a major discussion with his wife, because both were totally committed to living a life of Torah.
Moshe had an infectious smile, an expression of his lev tov. His good-heartedness was apparent when he thanked the avreich who arranged the minibus — every single day. He was extremely makpid about other people’s possessions and time. His chavrusa related that whenever they were finished using a sefer they had taken from the communal shelf, Moshe would immediately get up to return it, because he was concerned that "someone else" might need it, and "why should that someone else have to come look for it at our table, how can we waste someone else’s time?!"
His fellow avreichim in the kollelim describe seeing glimpses of his greatness when standing near him during davening. His beautiful voice and evident yiras Shamayim elevated not only every tefillah but every mispallel. The echoes of his "Amen Yehei Shmei Rabbah" are still heard and felt in the kollel.
On Lag B'omer he received a Heavenly decree of death. Rabi Akiva lost all of his 24,000 talmidim until this day. I lost my dear talmid on this day.
It is only now that I can truly begin to appreciate both the depth of the aveilus and the unfathomable greatness of Rabi Akiva, who was able to recover, rebuild, and renew all that was lost.
Only now can I appreciate, when I reflect on the depth of my relationship with my talmid, the special connection of a rebbi to a talmid. Chazal teach (Taanis 7a) that, "...but from my students I have learned more than from all of them." A rebbi can, in a certain sense, learn more from a talmid than the talmid can learn from him.
With a “teacher” as great as Moshe this Chazal is easy to understand. If we read this and make even one small change in ourselves, we will all be Moshe’s talmidim.
Rav Shraga Kallus, Rosh Kollel Machon Hora’ah L’Rabbanim and the Second Seder Kollel
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 859)
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